The success of the American tax system rests on the citizen's willingness to pay. The system will remain voluntary only so long as the people perceive it to be fair. That in turn may depend on the fine line between collection and harassment.
To make certain that the line is not crossed, lawmakers in Washington and Sacramento are sponsoring measures that would enact federal and state taxpayers' bills of rights. The proposals make such good common sense that it is a wonder they have not been written into law before now.
The California taxpayers' bill of rights has been proposed by Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sepulvada) and Ernest J. Dronenburg Jr., a San Diego Republican and member of the state Board of Equalization. Assemblyman Elihu M. Harris (D-Oakland) has joined as a co-sponsor. The two-bill package would apply similar provisions to the state Franchise Tax Board, the state's income-tax agency, and the Board of Equalization, which collects property taxes and some business taxes and hears appeals from the Franchise Tax Board.
The measures would establish the position of taxpayers'-rights advocate. The two agencies would be prohibited from encouraging "bounty hunting" by promoting employees on the basis of how much revenue they bring in. Tax-agency employees could be sued in rare instances of "intentional and reckless disregard" for a taxpayer's rights. Taxpayers could recover the costs of court actions when the state agency was at fault or in error, such as in the improper seizure of property. And the plan would provide for a more aggressive program of taxpayer education.